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‘Rockman’ Returns Home to Serve His Community

‘Rockman’ Returns Home to Serve His Community
Jeffrey Julius (Photo by Javier Pierrend)

“I grew up in Liberty City, Miami in the 70’s and 80’s. I had gangs around me, I saw the cocaine epidemic – I’ve seen it all.”

That’s how AFSCME Florida member Jeffrey Julius recalls the tough Miami neighborhood he called home as a child – the same neighborhood he now strives to improve every day.

After his mother, a teacher, died, Julius was left to care for his five younger brothers. He continued to practice the same firmness and discipline she had used, both with his siblings and with himself.

As a star high-school running back, Julius, unlike many of his friends growing up, found a way out of his Miami home – to play college football in Minnesota and then in West Virginia. Known to his friends as “Rockman” for his dedication, Julius had every reason not to return to Miami.

But the tug of family and of a community where he believed he could make a difference called him back.

A Second Chapter

After a 5-year stint as a teacher at a private Miami school for violent and mentally-disabled kids, Julius saw how working without a union affected not only staff, but the students he taught. Illegal frisking and other abuses led him to public service.

Frustrated with not having a voice on the job, he went to work for the state of Florida as a juvenile parole officer, a role he’s had for the past 24 years and where, with the support of his union, he’s immersed himself not only in changing the lives of the kids he works with, but in his community and in AFSCME.

“He’ll never turn you down,” says Julius’ longtime colleague, Barry Meyrowitz. “He takes everything on undauntingly. He attacks everything he does – politely and with professionalism.”

That means getting the kids he serves back on track, from the minute they enter to system, all the way through. They’re young – teens or even younger, from some of the hardest upbringings imaginable. Their offenses can range in severity from smaller crimes or theft to more violent offenses.

No matter what led them to Julius, he offers them the same message: “Dream high. Set a plan and do whatever it takes for you to get there,” says the 55-year-old. “I let them know: you’re going to see obstacles. But you have to stay focused. And you have to stay positive.”

It’s a lesson he takes to heart himself, since some of the painful situations he sees at work remind him of his own life and upbringing. In fact, it’s not uncommon, Julius says, that a parent or grandparent will remember him from his high school playing days.

“They look up to him,” says Meyrowitz. “They respect that he played football. A lot of them want to, too, but it’s not realistic for everyone.”

What is realistic in Julius’ mind, is getting kids on the right track. Part of his success has to do with setting manageable, small goals.

“I tell them to take it slowly,” Julius says. “One thing at a time: show up to court. Get through your first 30 days of probation. Make sure you show up to school.”

Beyond his day job, the father of three has been involved in mentoring Miami kids through the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. Saturdays have found Julius shuttling little kids from their homes to basketball games across the city.

Having been married for 28 years to his wife, Wanda, and with three grown children, all immersed in their respective careers, you might think Julius would feel like resting on his laurels. But he’s still moving the ball down the field.

Never Quit Service Award

Do you know public service workers who go above and beyond the call of duty?
Nominate them for the AFSCME Never Quit Service Award.